In a statement released by a state-run North Korean news agency, North Korea’s First Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kim Kye Gwan, threatened to pull out of a summit with President Trump scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.
North Korea’s threat to cancel the summit puts Trump in a very awkward position, after he’s spent weeks portraying it as a key part of his historic legacy.
Kim Kye Gwan wrote that the United States’ offer of extending “economic compensation and benefit” to North Korea in exchange for getting rid of its nuclear weapons is insufficient, and criticized National Security Adviser’s John Bolton’s comments about Libya serving as a model for North Korean denuclearization.
“[I]f they try to push us into a corner and force only unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in that kind of talks and will have to reconsider… the upcoming summit,” Kim Kye Gwan wrote, adding that Bolton’s comments represent “an awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers.”
Just last week, Trump — alluding to the mere fact that he had scheduled a meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, who he recently described as “very honorable” despite his record of flagrant, brutal human rights abuses — floated himself as a Nobel Peace Prize candidate.
“Everyone thinks [I deserve it], but I would never say it,” he told reporters regarding the top peace prize.
When asked if he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, President Trump said, “Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it… the prize I want is victory for the world.” https://t.co/yogNQujuKV pic.twitter.com/4wNDHokypb
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 10, 2018
At a rally late last month, Trump encouraged the crowd to chant “NO-BEL! NO-BEL” during a portion of his speech about the North Korean summit.
OMG while Trump talks about North Korea, the crowd interrupts him by chanting, "NO-BEL! NO-BEL!" pic.twitter.com/k3PyAlYNkF
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 28, 2018
On Twitter, Trump has repeatedly hyped the summit, which he has characterized as “a very special moment for World Peace!” and used to discredit his critics.
The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2018
North Korea has announced that they will dismantle Nuclear Test Site this month, ahead of the big Summit Meeting on June 12th. Thank you, a very smart and gracious gesture!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2018
Funny how all of the Pundits that couldn’t come close to making a deal on North Korea are now all over the place telling me how to make a deal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 22, 2018
Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018
While speaking to reporters following the return of three American hostages from North Korea last week, Trump said, “My proudest achievement will be – this is part of it – when we denuclearize that entire peninsula.”
With that goal suddenly in jeopardy, White House officials responded to North Korea’s statement on Wednesday by pretending they never actually expected the Kim-Trump summit to take place after all.
“This is something we fully expected,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters. “The president is very used [to] and ready for tough negotiations, and if they want to meet we’ll be ready, and if they don’t, that’s okay too. We’ll continue with the campaign of maximum pressure if that’s the case.”
Sarah Sanders on North Korea threatening to pull out of summit: "This is something we fully expected. The president is very used to & ready for tough negotiations & if they want to meet, we'll be ready. If they don't, that's ok too & we'll continue w/campaign of maximum pressure" pic.twitter.com/RVAGZ5SrJk
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 16, 2018
But by raising expectations about the meeting, and characterizing it as reflective of his superior deal-making skills, Trump has put himself in a position where he might need the summit to happen more than Kim does.
The president did himself no favors by violating the Iran nuclear agreement last week — a move that signaled to the North Korean regime that the U.S. government’s word can’t be trusted, even if North Korea lives up to the terms of a deal.
It’s possible that North Korea’s statement is just part of an attempt to extract added concessions from the Trump administration if a Trump-Kim summit does eventually happen. Trump officials have already signaled they might accept something short of full denuclearization, with new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling Fox News on Sunday that “America’s interest here is preventing the risk that North Korea will launch a nuclear weapon into [Los Angeles] or Denver or into the very place we’re sitting here this morning… that’s our objective” — a position different than calling for North Korea to denuclearize altogether.